Education

First week of school brings enrollment surprises at Tri-Cities schools

Temporary Tapteal Elementary opens in West Richland

Principal Sean Langdon explains about the temporary home of Tapteal Elementary School in West Richland while a new building is constructed at the school's old site.
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Principal Sean Langdon explains about the temporary home of Tapteal Elementary School in West Richland while a new building is constructed at the school's old site.

Richland school officials were surprised this week by a jump in the number of students showing up to school.

At the same time, Pasco’s student growth has eased, according to initial enrollment reports from district officials.

Numbers will continue to fluctuate at both districts for the next few weeks as students join or leave classes.

The figures are particularly in flux at Richland’s high schools, but enrollment at the district is trending upward, said Ty Beaver, the district’s communication director.

State funding for schools is driven by the number of students attending class on the first day in October. A lower than expected enrollment helped lead to Richland’s budget problems last year.

This week’s tenative numbers were not released, but last year at this time the district planned on having 13,750 students, but only had 13,550. A loss of a 100 students can mean more than a $1 million drop in state funding.

So, this year, they budgeted more conservatively by projecting that 150 more students would enroll this year.

Beaver said they’ve already seen several hundred more students show up for classes this week.

Most of the change is coming to Richland’s middle and high schools, Beaver said. It’s not clear where these students are coming from.

Richland’s enrollment, much like Kennewick’s, has trended up, but there have been years at both school districts where enrollment fell off.

Pasco slowing inching up

Pasco’s second-day enrollment shows growth in both the elementary and middle schools but a decline at the high schools.

After years of break-neck growth, Pasco enrollment appears to be leveling off.

The district’s second-day estimates show they added 87 students total, which includes losing 43 students — mostly in middle and elementary schools.

District leaders were prepared for this, said Shane Edinger, the district’s director of public affairs.

“We’re not anticipating a large influx of students this year,” he said. “We put together a budget with a zero percent growth projection.”

The district’s consulting firm, MGT Consulting, made that prediction when it put together a long-range facility plan.

Through the late 2000s and early 2010s, Pasco’s enrollment exploded and the district had about 600 more students each year —enough to fill an elementary school.

In recent years, the growth has been slowing.

What hasn’t been counted

The teacher’s strike in Kennewick has also closed Delta High School.

While the school is in Pasco, it shares teachers from all of the districts. Without teachers from Kennewick, they haven’t been able to open.

A similar thing happened in 2015 when teachers in Pasco walked out for nine days, Edinger said.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.
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